The PR/reporter relationship is a mutually beneficial arrangement that takes hard work to develop. Public relations experts work to gain trust and credibility with reporters, who in turn rely on these key contacts to provide them with great story angles, timely interviews and relevant materials.
Budding PR professionals are taught early to avoid making easy mistakes such as mass emailing reporters or sending them content that has nothing to do with their assigned beat. However, both newbies and seasoned publicists often forget key aspects when developing reporter relationships.
Here are four ways to help cultivate and maintain positive relationships with reporters:
Be Prepared – It’s a great feeling when you receive reporter interest in a story, but not so great when you can’t provide the reporter with what he or she needs. Before pitching a topic, make sure you have secured willing participants for the interview and any associated materials needed to build out the story. If you’re pitching a book, you should have a hard and digital copy ready to send to the reporter, as well as the author available for comment. If you’re pitching an event, the reporter should have access to it.
Recently, a client of mine had developed a new product for the tech sector. I immediately asked him if I could demo it to make sure I had a firm grasp of what I was pitching and that it was easily accessible for reporters to test out. He disclosed it would be months before it was actually finished. A reporter can’t write a story about a product based off of your word. They need to be able to experience it firsthand. If I had conducted press outreach, I would have burned my relationship with tech reporters.
Give Details – When you’re pitching a reporter, it’s important to include specific details that will inform them on your topic. If you’re telling them it’s a great product, provide them with concrete reasons as to why. If you’re pitching an expert for comment, include their areas of expertise and what topics they’re available to speak on.
Sometimes the connection between the expert and story isn’t immediately clear. I once pitched an HR executive for comment on vaccinations during a national flu epidemic. At face value, that might seem confusing and it will more than likely be ignored by a reporter. But, by providing details around your expert, it helps put the story into context.
The PR angle was about how HR executives are taking a proactive approach to flu season through resourceful means to make sure that these types of illnesses have limited impact on disrupting business operations. This HR expert brought in healthcare professionals who could administer flu shots on-site, which allowed employees to schedule and receive their vaccination conveniently at work. By explaining the angle and what she could speak about, it helped the reporter see a new connection to the larger story she was working on.
Avoid Fluff – When providing details, stick to the facts and key pieces of information. It’s human nature to want to over explain a topic. It’s the reporter’s job to write the article, not yours.
While working with junior PR associates, I constantly come across lengthy pitches. In addition to email fatigue, there’s nothing worse than opening an email that is five paragraphs long. If you wouldn’t read that, why would you expect a reporter to? Be succinct and clear. A reporter is much more likely to read your email if it doesn’t look like a novel.
Don’t Overpromise – Simply put, don’t make promises you can’t keep. Setting clear expectations can go a long way with a reporter. There’s often a fear that if you can’t give reporters everything they want, you’ll lose the opportunity. Reporters understand the industry in which they are writing for and know it comes with complications.
I once had a reporter writing a story about how online nursing courses were using real patients to help teach students. Due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), I couldn’t offer the reporter access to a live class session or allow interviewees to talk specifically about the patients. The reporter completely understood and respected the laws surrounding the topic. Despite these restrictions, the professor and willing students could still talk about the learning experience, without providing specific details about the patients. It allowed for the reporter to develop a thoughtful piece without either of us violating any laws.